Is Ayman al-Zawahiri alive? Al-Qaeda leader surfaces in 9/11 anniversary video

Supposedly dead Al-Qaeda leader appears in a new video by group where he talks about Afghanistan and attack on Russian troops

                            Is Ayman al-Zawahiri alive? Al-Qaeda leader surfaces in 9/11 anniversary video
In this video grab taken from a broadcast by Arab television, Ayman al-Zawahri claims responsibility for the July 7 terror attacks in London (Getty Images)

Is Ayman al-Zawahiri alive? That's been a big question on the minds of intelligence officials for months and now the public as well. On September 11, as the US marked 20 years since the deadly 9/11 attacks, the Al-Qaeda leader made a short appearance in a new video released by the group. It comes as a huge surprise since al-Zawahiri was reported dead in late 2020, or early 2021. Adding to the mystery is the fact that al-Zawahiri references events in January 2021. 

In October 2020, the group's second-in-command Abu Muhsin al-Masri was killed by Afghan security forces in the Ghazni province of Afghanistan. A month later, Israeli operatives gunned down Abu Muhammad al-Masri, the mastermind behind the 1998 US embassy bombings in Africa. The group has now returned to headlines, as many fear the Taliban could give them the freedom to launch attacks at the US, despite the Taliban promising not to do so from Afghanistan. 


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In a bid to protect the west, the US is still on the hunt for Al Qaeda operatives, the same way it is still after ISIS. One of the biggest names on the list is al-Zawahiri, who took over Al-Qaeda after Osama Bin Laden was shot and killed in 2011. In fact, the FBI continues to offer up to $25 million for information leading to the capture of al-Zawahiri. Earlier, that reward appeared as if it would go unclaimed, but now the new Al Qaeda video shows otherwise.

Osama bin Laden (L) sits with Ayman al-Zawahiri (R) during an interview with Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir (not pictured) at an undisclosed location in Afghanistan. (Visual News/Getty Images)

Is Ayman al-Zawahiri alive?

To answer this question, we first need to address the rumors of his death. In late 2020, rumors began to emerge al-Zawahiri had died from an illness, backed up by the fact no videos of the leader had emerged. But, the new video appears to challenge those rumors, since al-Zawahiri references events from early 2021. He speaks about the raid on a Russian military base in Syria, which on January 1 the group claimed credit for.  Rita Katz, Director of the US-based SITE Intelligence Group, also noted that al-Zawahiri may have been alive long after January 1. Katz noted that Al-Qaeda’s As-Sahab released part one of a series of books by Zawahiri himself. The introduction to the book is dated April 2021, another hint that al-Zawahiri may be alive. But given that the book references old events, it's not a reliable source of information.

That's where the new video comes in. The 60-minute video sees al-Zawahiri speak about several topics, including the Syrian base attack, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, and Jerusalem. The information was shared by Katz on Twitter, in a long series of tweets about 9/11. She noted that the video introduced the leader with the words "May Allah protect him," another strong indication he may be alive. "Nonetheless, intelligence agencies have, as of yet, offered no proof or solid assessments that Zawahiri is dead, leaving the question of his current status in the air," she said. 



Katz did however note, that there is still a possibility that al-Zawahiri could be dead as of September 2021. He "doesn't mention Taliban's Afghanistan victory, and his talk of US "making its exit from Afghanistan" could have been said early as Feb 2020 upon Doha Agreement. Thus, he could still be dead, though if so, would have been at some point in or after Jan 2021," she tweeted. But this is all speculation for now, with conflicting information constantly emerging. A June 2021 United Nations report indicated al-Zawahiri was very much alive and active near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. 

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